New York Democrats’ Answered Prayers

With control of the House at stake, New York Democrats are trying to re-gerrymander the state’s voting maps in time for the November elections after their first attempt ran afoul of the state Constitution.

AP/Mariam Zuhaib
The House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, February 7, 2024, at Washington. AP/Mariam Zuhaib

The latest proof of Truman Capote’s observation that “more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones” can be found in New York. The Democrats are trying to re-gerrymander the voting maps in time for November’s election after their first try ran afoul of the state Constitution. The maps have outside importance this year, as they could decide control of the House. Yet there’s an astonishing situation shaping up that no one anticipated.

It turns out that Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is decrying the new map put forward by the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. He says the excessively fair map “should be meticulously scrutinized” by Democrats who control the state legislature. That translates to an order from the top for Democrats to vote down the panel’s map. Democrats, the Times reports, are fuming that the proposed districts are too fair.

That is, they are akin to “the very map” the Democrats were “trying to replace.” That is not how it was supposed to play out for Empire State Democrats, who have been thwarted almost every step of the way in their attempts to tilt the electoral playing field in New York. Their Achilles’ Heel is a 2014 amendment to the state constitution requiring an independent, bipartisan panel to draw the voting maps every 10 years.

That amendment was a response to voter disgust with partisan gerrymandering by both parties over the years. After the 2020 census, when the panel met for the first time, it split on party lines and failed to reach consensus. Democrats leapt at the chance to draw their own maps — as if the redistricting amendment had “never been passed,” as the ex-chief judge of New York, Janet DiFiore, put it.

The map would have tilted the state’s House delegation, giving the GOP but four likely seats, down from the eight they had before. It was as blatant a power grab as it gets. Republicans challenged the gerrymander in court. A state judge agreed that the maps were unfair and ordered them to be redrawn by a neutral expert. That map, a paragon of fairness, raised the hackles of the Democrats, who fought them all the way to the state’s top court.

Then, in a startling turn, the high court, as we put it, “clobbered Governor Hochul and the Democratic legislature” over their gerrymandering scheme. Chief Judge DiFiore’s ruling lamented the “scourge of hyper-partisanship” that animated the drawing of the tilted map. Her ruling came as a narrow win. Four of the seven justices backed an honest reading of the constitution, while three, as we wrote, placed “party over principle.”

Judge DeFiore was soon pressured by the left into resigning. Once her replacement was on the bench, the Democrats returned to the courts for a new gerrymander of the voting maps. Sure enough, the high court agreed that it was time to give the districting panel another crack at drawing the map that had gone into effect barely two years ago. The Democrats hoped “to exploit the opening to aggressively reshape district lines in their favor,” the Times said.

So imagine the Democrats’ dismay that the proposed map “looks a lot like the current court-drawn map,” as the Times put it, “that helped Republicans pick up seats in 2022.” The redistricting panel’s Democratic chairman, Ken Jenkins, reminds his party that map-drawing “requires compromise.” No wonder Mr. Jeffries is so incensed, insisting now that the legislature has to step in and impose a “fairly drawn” map. After all, his speakership is at stake.

The New York Sun

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